Conway’s All the World’s Fighting Ships: 1860-1905 is probably my most used and viewed reference work at the moment (along with The China Steam Navy reviewed elsewhere). Conway’s is the most complete reference on ironclad and pre-Dreadnought vessels in service from the American Civil War through to the Russian Japanese War of 1904-1905.
Vessels from the Great Powers (Great Britain, USA – both Old and New Navy as well as Confederate, Russia, Japan, Austria-Hungary, France and Italy); Coast Defence Navies (Sweden, Denmark, Norway, The Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Greece, Turkey, China, Argentina, Brazil and Chile); and the Minor Navies (Belgium, Bulgaria, Cambodia, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Ecuador, Egypt, Haiti, Hawaii, Liberia, Mexico, Morocco, Paraguay, Persia, Peru, Roumania, San Domingo, Sarawak, Siam, Uruguay, Venezuela and Zanzibar). What a great list.
The book covers the vessels in service over that time period, providing details of the vessel and in many cases, a line drawing or contemporary photograph of the vessel or class member. Each country section is further divided between Capital Ships, Cruisers, Gunboats, Torpedo Boats, Destroyers and other types of vessels.
For example, the entry for Hawaii notes:
KAIMOLA, gunvessel (launched 1871).
Displacement: 291lt gross
Machinery: 1 shaft, 40 hp = 6-8 kts
Armament: 4 brass cannon, 2 Gatling MGs.
A wooden-hulled, three-masted gunvessel built at Blyth as the steamer Firebrick, and later renamed Explorer. She was purchased in December 1886 by the King of Hawaii. Sold to the Inter Island Steamship Company in 1887, she was finally broken up on 1910.
Not only details of the vessels, but the vessels end is also briefly covered, whether the vessel was stricken, lost in battle, broken up and so on. This period was the transition period from the old wooden warship propelled by sails to the modern metal warship propelled by coal or oil. There are some great photos in this book and it is well worth the cost. There are three companion volumes covering later periods and together they make a wonderful reference set.
I cannot recommend this book enough.
In fact, this book is so good that when my apartment was burgled in Mongolia, my copy of Conway’s was stolen amongst other things.
Added: Sunday, February 15, 2004
Reviewer: Thomo the Lost
Related Link: Conway’s All the World’s Fighting Ships: 1860-1905